Look at leases in new space study

By Steve Estes

Monroe County’s space planning consultant has delivered its initial draft report on future needs of all phases of county government for operational space.

And as expected, the report calls for tearing down some old, dilapidated buildings and replacing them with more modern, more efficient, structures.

The report outlines what facilities to take to the ground, where to build potential replacement facilities, and where to shift work spaces in the buildings remaining.

The report is thorough and comprehensive, as we would expect it to be.

Yes, you do hear a but in that equation.

What we feel is missing from the report is any mention of eliminating leased space the county currently uses for several functions, other than a suggestion to purchase the current leased spaces for the Big Pine Key library branch.

The county leases space for some judicial functions, for some offices, and for some maintenance uses.

And that should not be what happens in the future.

Even in leased facilities, county government is responsible for insurance and maintenance costs, as well as utilities.

If we’re going to pay those costs anyway, let’s find a way to add those few uses currently found in leased buildings into the new construction plans and eliminate leased facilities.

The consultant lays out a new construction and renovation budget for county facilities of more than $100 million dollars over the next 10 years or so.

We don’t have that kind of money after we address the final wastewater projects, stormwater projects, the backlog of road and bridge projects, canal restoration, emergent facility renovation, possible new purchases and the ever-constant specter of build out that will require nearly $300 million in land purchases to avoid.

We’re sure that creative minds can find ways to cut those costs and acquire some state and federal money to offset the necessity to have the local taxpayer bear the full burden of such an ambitious undertaking.

But we also need those creative minds to seek out ways to rid the county of leased space.

Every building we can eliminate is one less building the taxpayer will be responsible for paying insurance on, one less building the taxpayer will be responsible for paying utilities on, one less building the taxpayer will be responsible for repairing after a storm event,and one less building the taxpayer will be responsible for paying rent on.

That has to be worth some savings over the long haul. And that’s what local government is—a long haul.

Here on Big Pine we have a leased office for our local commissioner. We didn’t add the $40,000 or so it would have taken to add that office to the recently completed fire station—a county-owned building. We didn’t spend the money to renovate the senior center to add that office while it was closed for the fire station repairs.

Either scenario might have worked. We didn’t explore the possibility, content to continue leasing space.

But now we have a good idea how much space we’ll need for the operations of county government into the future.

We need a new courthouse in Plantation Key. What else is in Plantation Key that can be added to that project to make it cheaper in the long run for the county taxpayer?

We plan to build a new courthouse complex in Marathon. Who can we move into that building with just a little bit of extra money that will cut the long term bill for the taxpayer?

The consultant suggests expanding the Cudjoe substation for the exclusive use of the Sheriff’s Department and building a new fire station to service that area. What other county functions can be moved into that new or expanded facility that will save the taxpayer long-term dollars?

What functions can be consolidated into the space we currently have available in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West, where half as much room is given over to storage of records as operational space?

These,unfortunately, are the questions we didn’t see addressed in the initial report.

So let’s send the draft back for some more work. We may find that ridding ourselves of leased space isn’t cost effective.

And that’s OK.

Because knowledge is never a bad thing.

No Comments »

Leave a Reply